Local elections 2019: Unclear future for Portsmouth council as votes fail to bring a majority for any party
THE control of Portsmouth City Council is uncertain following this year’s local elections as no parties managed to win a majority.
Despite weeks of tenacious campaigning neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Conservatives managed to gain enough seats to snatch the coveted top spot.
In the early hours of Friday morning it was revealed that the Tories had won seven seats, closely followed by the Lib Dems – currently the administration - who took six. Labour won two and no other parties or independents claimed any.
Although the Tories took more seats the election has left them with one fewer ward overall, widening the gap between them and the Lib Dems.
As a result the new make-up of the council is 18 Lib Dems, 16 Tories, six Labour and two independents.
For council and Lib Dem leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, it was a successful night. ‘It is a really great result,’ he said.
‘We are now the largest party in the council and we have managed to gain seats every year for the past three years.
‘This shows that people like what we are doing. We have been getting the basics right. We’ve made sure there are enough classrooms, that weekly bin collections are kept, that people who want parking zones get them and that there’s more money for youth services. Those are things that really matter to people.’
But the council administration could still change if the Labour party sides with either the Tories or Lib Dems. This could be decided at the next full council meeting in a couple of weeks.
Tory leader, Cllr Donna Jones, was hopeful that it could lead to more ‘cross-party work.’
She said: ‘I am actually really really pleased.
‘This wasn’t a great night nationally for the Conservatives but here in Portsmouth we’ve held our own. We won the most seats with seven.
‘I predict this means Portsmouth is going to have no overall control for the next three or four years but that after that we could see one of the major parties in charge again. In the meantime it would be good if we could work in a more cross-party way.’
Labour had been hopeful to take more wards, including Central Southsea, where candidate Charlotte Gerada lost against education boss Cllr Suzy Horton.
But they did gain in St Jude where Graham Heaney won by 210 votes, and held their seat in Charles Dickens with newcomer Cal Corkery.
Leader of the Portsmouth Labour group and Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said: ‘We are pleased that we have got a councillor into another ward in Southsea although we would have liked to have done better.
‘There were some really close results tonight.
‘The party has always voted with what we think is best in the case in the city. And we will continue to do that on a case-by-case basis.’
The overall turnout of the votes was 31.5 per cent, down from 32 per cent last year.
IT was an emotional night for many, with some first-time candidates elected to the council and other familiar faces that were voted back in.
Despite party differences successful candidates were welcomed into the council with applause.
For Tory Linda Symes, it was ‘fantastic’ to return.
The former cabinet member for culture lost her seat in St Jude last year to Labour Councillor Judith Smyth. But this year residents in Eastney and Craneswater voted her back in.
‘It’s a fantastic feeling,’ she said.
‘I do work really hard and I hope people have seen that. I also belong to a great team. The challenges in this ward will be different to where I was before but I’m looking forward to getting to work.’
The council’s head of environment, Cllr Dave Ashmore, was given another four years at the council by voters in Fratton.
He said: ‘It’s amazing that the people have put their trust in me to give me another term. My main priority will continue to be going out into my ward, hearing what residents have to say and putting it into action.’
Newcomer Cal Corkery, who stood and won for Labour in Charles Dickens, caused a stir with his first speech as he made reference to election tactics of the ‘far right’ to which some people shouted out against. Speaking afterwards the housing activist said: ‘I wanted to put forward the case that we ran a positive campaign based on the values of equality for all, which contrasted quite sharply with some of the other candidates.
‘For me the priority is always going to be social and affordable housing and hopefully I will be able to do more about this now.’
VOTER apathy did not affect results in Portsmouth as much as party leaders had feared.
Early speculation at the Guildhall suggested a ‘significantly low’ voter turnout – in line with the rest of the country.
But a final tally showed that 31.5 per cent of people registered to vote in Portsmouth participated, only 0.5 per cent less than last year.
Conservative leader, Councillor Donna Jones, explained that voters were feeling frustrated. ‘There is one reason and one reason only why turnout is low and that is Britain leaving the EU. Many people, even people who voted to remain, now just want to see us leave with or without a deal,’ she said.
Portsmouth South MP and councillor Stephen Morgan agreed. Speaking before results were announced he said: ‘There’s so much division in the country at the moment. People are using apathy to show they are not happy.
‘I have managed to go to polling stations in Central Southsea and Fratton today and what we’re seeing is very low voter turnout. Nationally we are expecting significant losses for the Tories and more Independent councillors voted in.’
Cllr Jones, former council leader, remained confident. She said: ‘I think that turnout looks like it has been low across Portsmouth. However, I am optimistic that people in Portsmouth have been telling us that they are appreciative and remember the good things that we achieved when we were in power between 2014 and 2018 whilst I was leader of the council.’
Lib Dem councillor and city regeneration boss, Cllr Ben Dowling, added: ‘In the last three years we have had so many elections and the same issue in our politics. I think this is why turnout could be low. But hopefully we [the Lib Dems] will prevail in Portsmouth.’